I’ve had free access to a local gym for a couple of years now. Admittedly during 2020-2021 I either couldn’t go, or it wouldn’t have been ideal. And now I could go, I’m not so bothered. I know I need exercise, but I don’t need to go to a gym, or go out of my way to get it.
Afterall, I’ve finally broken away from working behind a computer screen for most of the day and move around a fair amount as an activity coordinator in a care home. I get all the movement I need moving around the home, visiting residents and helping with ancillary tasks. I don’t mind a bit of “exercise” from time to time. When the weather’s a bit warmer I like to ride my bike; I’m not completely averse to sport, I just don’t do it a whole lot, if at all. Sometimes I go cycling or play badminton to “get a bit of exercise”, but often I go for a cycle because I like the warmth of the sun, and the joy of rolling down the hill towards the seaside, or I schedule a game of badminton because I like the challenge of overthrowing my opponent.
According to Daniel E. Lieberman says in his 2021 book Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding, we never evolved to exercise, to do voluntary physical activity for the sake of health.
It’s something we may be told to do when diagnosed with cancer, or at least feel like we “ought to” to better our physical health, our mental state etc.. But as Liberman says “We never evolved to do it. For millions of years, our ancestors had to work in order to survive, but otherwise they took it easy because they couldn’t spend extra energy going for a needless 5 mile run in the morning.”
So if you’re not much of an “exercise” person, or a very sporty person, you have a fair excuse, and you’re far from alone.
We didn’t evolve to exercise, but we did evolve to move. Exercise is a voluntary physical activity, and a modern phenomenon, moving is what we evolved to do.
People in the world’s Blue Zones—the places around the world with the highest life expectancy don’t go to the gym, they don’t run marathons or lift weights. They simply move. They live in environments that naturally get them moving without them having to think about it. They reduce mechanical conveniences in the home, they grow gardens and they get up and moving throughout the day.
“When you get up and move your body, all kinds of antioxidants and enzymes are released to repair damaged cells, muscles, bones, and DNA.”
So if you feel you “must exercise”, or “ought to exercise”, go out for a walk, get your bike out of the shed, or get on a treadmill you don’t have to; you just need to move, and for some of the healthiest people in the world that’s more than enough. It’s a cultural shift, a change in habits, and a more compassionate view to advise people to simply move more, rather than do a voluntary activity, many of us don’t like or want to do.